In the third quarter of a 9-3 game, the Miami Dolphins had the ball inside the Buffalo Bills' 10-yard line on a 2nd-and-1 play. After 41 minutes of play time on a nationally televised Thurssday Night Football game, the game was about to get its first score and begin a second half in which Miami would score 19 points to Buffalo's 3, giving Miami a win over their AFC East rivals.
There are a lot of little things that happen before and during this play that make it successful. From the All-22 angle, we can see quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) initially moves tight end Charles Clay (42) from the left side of the formation over to the right. As we will see in a minute, this puts Clay next to Dion Sims (80), with both tight ends running pass routes.
This is where is gets a little more interesting, as Tannehill does not like where his wide receivers have set themselves. He begins waiving at the combination of Brandon Gibson (10) and Mike Wallace (11) at the bottom of the image. The two appear confused for a second, with Tannehill finally stepping forward and pointing exactly where he wants Gibson.
With Gibson now set in close to the offensive line, Tannehill sends Wallace in motion, with him moving to line up stacked on Gibson. This is probably why Gibson and Wallace were confused about Tannehill wanting to move them; they knew Wallace was supposed to go into motion, but he was trying to move Gibson, so the two were not initially sure who should move.
Now that Wallace is moving, we also can diagram how the play is going to be run. There are three receivers who will run routes, Gibson, Sims, and Clay, from bottom to top. Gibson is going to run a post route, while Sims will work a corner route and Clay will run an out patter just past the first-down marker. As we will see, none of the three get off the line of scrimmage cleanly, but they are all able to run their assigned routes.
Tannehill will start the play with a fake pitch to running back Lamar Miller, while left tackle Ja'Wuan James and left guard Shelley Smith pull around Wallace, who immediatley will begin blocking, and the rest of the offensive line crashes left. Clearly, the Dolphins block this play as if it is a run to the offense's left.
The All-22 angle tilts back a little, giving a better look at the routes that will be run. The Dolphins are completely selling the run on this play, with the big formation having two tight ends, and bringing the wide receivers in close to the line. The pulling linemen and the crashing of the rest of the line all sell the deception perfectly.
As Tannehill fakes the pitch, the Buffalo defense are all starting to move to their right, responding to what appears to be a running play. Clay and Sims are engaged right along the line of scrimmage, which also goes into selling the run, while Gibson appears to be moving out to block as well.
Tannehill keeps the ball, however, and rolls to the offense's right. the majority of the Bills' defense do not yet realize it is a fake run, and are still keyed on Miller. Tannehill is immediately reading Clay and Sims, his two primary receivers on this play.
The Bills' defenders realize Miller does not have the ball, but now it is too late for them to have an impact on the play. The Dolphins are effectively playing four-on-three football here, with defenders covering Sims and Clay, as well as a linebacker keying on Tannehill to prevent the mobile quarterback from running.
In the All-22 angle, Tannehill is reading Clay and Sims, trying to determine if either of them will break coverage. Gibson, his third read on the play - and maybe the fourth if running the ball on the bootleg was a consideration on the play - is moving across the middle of the field, and is being completely ignored by Buffalo's defense, who all bought the run fake.
Tannehill continues to read the Clay/Sims routes, while the Bills defense still is not sure what they are supposed to do. There is no pressure on Tannehill, and he has yet to tip off the defense that they have completely missed Gibson coming across the endzone.
Tannehill finally flips his eyes to the left, looking for Gibson who should be getting to the middle of the field at this point. Still there is no pressure on Tannehill. The run fake so fooled the Bills defense that six Dolphins players are essentially doing nothing at this point, simply watching the play. The All-22 view will show it even better.
Tannehill finds Gibson, who has a comically big spot shadow on him with not a single other play in the circle. The ability of the majority of the Miami offense to just stand around is seens here as well, with most of the players actually looking back at the play because the Buffalo defenders have been pulled so far away from any impact they could have. From the bottom of the image, James, Miller, Wallace, center Samson Satele, and right tackle Dallas Thomas are doing nothing; Shelley Smith and Mike Pouncey are still attempting to block, though they really do not need to be doing that either. A perfect play design.
Tannehill unloads the ball immediately upon seeing Gibson, throwing slightly back across his body as he rolls to his right.
Tannehill delivers the pass to Gibson on his back shoulder, with the receiver falling down to make the catch. To nit-pick, the throw may have been slightly inaccurate, but the throw was against Tannehill's own momentum, and a back shoulder throw kept Gibson from carrying across the field, where, potentially, one of the players defending the Clay/Sims routes could have tried to put a hit on Gibson and separate him from the ball. With the result, the ball may have been exactly where Tannehill wanted to put it, and it may have been exactly where it needed to go.
All that's left to do now is celebrate. (The flag was a defensive holding call and was declined by Miami.)
Breaking down this play made me realize, we had seen something very similar shortly before the Miami touchdown. Four plays before Tannehill found Gibson for the score, Miami lined up on a 2nd-and-5 play from their own 46-yard line. Instead of the two tight end set, the Dolphins would have three receivers on this play, with Wallace spread to the offense's left, Gibson spread to the right, and Rishard Matthews in the slot to the right. Lamar Miller is in the backfield with Tannehill and Clay is inline on the offense's left.
At the snap, Tannehill pitches the ball to Miller, who runs behind the pulling combination of Shelley Smith and Samson Satele.Tannehill, fakes the roll to the offense's right, mimicking what he will do just a few plays later.
The hole opens up perfectly between the two pulling linemen, and Miller is able to pick up seven yards and the first down.
The Dolphins were able to score a third quarter touchdown based on a well designed play, with Tannehill directing traffic to exactly where he wanted it and progressing through he reads. The offensive line and Miller sold the run fake and the offense was able to execute the play to perfection. Looking back on the game, that touchdown was setup by running the pitch version of the play for a seven-yard gain four plays earlier.
Good play calling, great play design, and perfect execution.